We all know the brain is a complicated thing. It is our computer that makes us run. Every aspect of our lives involves our brain, and bowling is no different. We always hear competitors, coaches and idols talking about having a tough mental game. You need to be able to think smart to bowl good. I prefer to use the opposite.
If you really want to break down how everything works, you’ll find that your brain will both help your game, and hinder it. Getting really scientific with matters, your brain controls your nerve fibers which in turn control your muscles. This is where the term “practice makes perfect” comes into play. It wasn’t until a couple years ago that I learned that this term was only partly right. I decided to try to research some sports psychology and stumbled on a really good read. In this book, it explains what that term really means and how you can really go about excelling at a sport. The key is something called “Myelin” or as it’s more commonly known as, “white matter”. By doing repetitive actions, your brain creates Myelin which insulates your nerve fibers. The more Myelin you have insulating your nerve fibers, the easier it becomes to do that action that this specific nerve fiber controls. To simply put it, the more Myelin, the less you have to actually think about doing the action or to add to the earlier term talked about; Practice makes Myelin and Myelin makes perfect. (For anyone looking to read more into this concept and to enhance your mental game, I urge you to read “The Talent Code”, by Daniel Coyle) The more that you work at your game, the better trained your muscles become. In Bowling School we refer to it as “muscle memory”. This is what makes practicing so important to helping your game. No matter how talented you are at the beginning of your journey in bowling, you must still work hard to stay at the top of your game. I think NBA basketball player Kevin Durant puts it into words the best. When asked about any advice he could give to others looking to follow in his footsteps his simply said “Hard work beats talent if talent fails to work hard.” Work hard at your game, and success will come.
If you look back to the beginning of this blog, I said that your brain can both help and hinder your success. Obviously we’ve touched on how your brain will aid you in your bowling game. But now I’d like to spend a large portion of this blog talking about the ways your brain can hinder your game, without putting a negative spin on things. While practicing your game will make the motions feel more natural, your brain still craves control. It seems determined at times, to take all that hard work and mess it up. This is especially true in some pressure situations. In my mind, there is too much pressure to “have to” throw the shot when needed. Where does this pressure come from? Well, if you’re looking to pinpoint the origin of that pressure, simply look in the mirror. We put all that pressure on ourselves. The truth is, we don’t “have to” throw the shot at all. I’ve recently practiced a new part of my mental game that I’ve only recently unlocked in my head. I’ve stood on the approach with the ball in my hand and put things in perspective. I’ve found that since I’ve played out the following idea in my head, my rate of success has increased greatly.
My new mental exercise isn’t some positive reinforcement or anything technical. It’s about as basic as you could possibly get. I think of where bowling stands in the world. If I’ve ever thrown the shot that I “had to” throw in the past, I’ve never been given a raise, become a celebrity, been knighted or anything that has ultimately changed my life. Conversely, I’ve never been fired, lost my house, put in jail or sued if I missed. Success or failure in the game of bowling doesn’t alter my everyday life at all. At the end of the day, bowling is a game where you roll a ball down wood and try to knock over plastic sticks. That’s all it is and all it ever will be. Don’t get me wrong, I obviously love the game and have great passion for it. But at the end of the day, I realize that there shouldn’t be an overwhelming pressure to succeed in bowling. I cannot give myself full credit for this mental trick that I’ve unlocked for myself since it was really one particular team event that helped me get this thought started. My teammates and coach during the 2009 Ontario Open were the ones that were instrumental in changing my way of thinking. Having such a trust in my teammates allowed me to no longer be afraid to miss or fail, knowing that if I did miss, they would have my back. Since then, I’ve just taken that concept further and adapted it more to suit my mental game to help me and help me improve into a better bowler. It’s important to not only trust yourself that you’ll get the job done but also to have trust in those that are on your team battling in the trenches with you.
I’ve always told people “If you can throw one strike, there’s no reason why you can’t throw 16 or 17 in a row”. Sounds kind of silly considering it’s something that you don’t hear people doing very often but I believe in that idea. It’s your brain that realizes that you’re on, say, 5 or 6 in a row and starts messing things up. It’s a mental wall that you create for yourself that has the ability to hinder your game. Speaking for my own game, I’ve always found that I would play in tournaments like The Open or other tournament formats that didn’t keep a running tab of my individual score. Not seeing my scores game to game didn’t allow me to notice that I was playing really well and scoring high, or not scoring well and getting down on myself. I realize that some people play better seeing their scores and knowing where they stand in a tournament but for myself, I’ve learned to play dumb. Some might chime in and say it’s easy for me to play that way, but the truth is, I try to if I ever get the chance to. I go up on the lane with the idea that each and every frame is its own game, taking only the good things from the previous frames to the next and shedding your mind of anything bad thrown previously. This allows me to get into a routine and get myself on a roll. I set my sights at recreating what gave me success the frame before. Let’s face it, this game is about routine. From an early age coaches are teaching young bowlers to throw a consistent ball frame after frame. What gets lost in the mix is the importance of THINKING consistent as well. Muscle memory gets your muscles trained to do consistent motions over and over and using your mental game consistent as well will compliment what your muscles accomplish.
To sum everything up, it’s important to use your brain to achieve consistency, but to not use it too much. Overthinking can lead to tight grips that cause flat shots or trying to force the ball into place. Use your head to get things rolling and then put it on repeat. Everyone has certain triggers that work for them to throw great shots. Find yours and have confidence in yourself to repeat the process over and over. More importantly, don’t take the moment too seriously and don’t take yourself too seriously, because at the end of the day, it’s still just a game. Even if it IS a fun one.